What is your favorite TV show that dates you the most?
My enduring love is Star Trek. I was not old enough to watch it when it first launched because it was on after my bedtime but I was around at the time so I think it counts for dating me, Even though I didn’t watch the show in its original time, I have seen every episode, every series, and it remains the only show I can see over and over again. I even endured Enterprise. So much promise, so little delivery, but I sat through every minute of it. Just in case.
Star Trek remains my hope of a human future that’s worth working for, that taps the good in us all. Not because we’re angels, but because we’re survivors and we’re social. In the end, when push comes to shove, we will ultimately prevail over our human failings.
Sometimes it’s easy to dream about the past, or the future, and think how much simpler life would be if I lived there. In the past of fiction and imagination the pace was slower, the living simpler, the possibilities seemingly boundless. Then I start remembering all the stuff I take for granted, and frankly enjoy, that didn’t exist in my favorite time periods. Health care, indoor plumbing, personal hygiene in some cases, not to mention general sanitation. If there’s one thing I despise it’s stinky smells, and there would be a lot of those.
I suppose if I were born in the past I wouldn’t mind that the streets ran with effluvia or that indoor plumbing consisted of a chamber pot. But to go back to there from now? Realistically? No ta! Besides I’d probably be a serf, not a princess or other high-status individual, and life would be not just stinky but short and hard.
As for the future… Well, I’d like to live in the kind of future where money doesn’t exist, where each person’s talent is carefully nurtured and everyone is equal (yes, I know, I’m back to Star Trek again, aren’t I?) but again my realistic nature makes me question that dream. Humans are strange beings—competitive, argumentative, egotistical, to name a few characteristics—and the traits that make us human would seem often to be impediments to that kind of Utopian ideal.
Then there’s that pesky thing called ‘technology.’ I don’t hate it—believe me, my computer is one of my favorite possessions—but that doesn’t mean I actually understand it. Every year technology advances and I know, without a doubt, at some point in my lifetime it will far outstrip my needs and ability to keep up. So, should I jump forward in time say two-hundred years, would I be even able to function? I wouldn’t have the necessary implants given at birth or have the chance to learn how to use them seamlessly, like those future children do, should that be a part of future humans’ lives. Even if technology isn’t that intrusive, I can picture myself curling up in a corner, gibbering, as someone tries to teach me how to get the replicator to feed me!
As a fan of Star Trek (all flavours, though Voyager isn’t a must watch), I was entranced by Data. The first android to be allowed into Star Fleet, there were several episodes that dealt with identity and what it means to be human. As much as the Enterprise‘s mission was to seek out new life, it was frequently argue that Data himself was a new form of life.
There are two episodes in particular that highlight, for me, Data’s budding humanity. In The Naked Now, Data’s friendship with Tasha Yar is put under the spotlight. With Tasha infected by an alien virus, he attempt to seduce Data, resulting in what is probably a famous statement from Data – that is he fully functional. Though the doors are shut on what happens next, the assumption is that he is indeed and that he and Tasha are intimate.
The second episode I love is Déjà Q, in which the troublesome omnipotent being is stripped of his power and strikes up an odd friendship with the android. When Q is restored to the Continuum, he repays Data’s saving his life by gifting him with being able to laugh.
Later episodes develop Data’s humanity further, showing him picking up hobbies such a painting and playing the violin, as well as acquiring a cat he names “Spot”.
My love of robots and other mechanical people started young–very young–with the TV show Lost in Space. Admitting that dates me, but I remember running around the block, waving my arms and screaming “Danger, Danger Will Robinson,” because “the Robot” (sort of like “the Doctor”, okay its a stretch) was, and remains, my favorite character from the show. The Robot signified, at least to me, how to befriend someone very different, the increasing importance of mechanical devices in our life and the need to think deeply about that, and the assumption that mechanical devices are are friends–usually.
The next set of robots that clanked into my life exacerbated my fangirl leaning toward mechanical characters. I discovered old movies and from those classics, Robby the Robot (Forbidden Planet) and Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still) stood out. Like the Robot, both remained subject to humanoid direction, but both were mechanical beings in places where machines or humanoid mechanical creations were not all good.
The machine became the answer to the machine.
This theme now permeates culture. And what a key questions we struggle with now are: “Where are the lines, specifically how much do machines serves us and at what point do we go to far? At what point, does sentience come into play?
Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, Philip K. Dick’s Do Android’s Dream of Electric Sheep (aka Blade Runner) take on these themes and remain relevant reads and films trying to answer these questions, as do many others. Answers are not easy and they are getting more complex.
On TV, enter Data on Star Trek TNG, a fully mechanical being, who seems to have a soul, pitted against the Borg, an integration of machine and biological matter, which does not while connected to the hive mind. Now that we’ve hit the 21st century struggle, the question of what it means to be human when we rely increasingly on machines, which are getting smarter, faster, cheaper, is starting to loom large?
And what threats do they present? Terminator took that question head on as does Transformers. In both, we see machine vs machine as a core underlying message.
Now, as we move firmly into the digital age, with an increasing reliance on bytes and metal, these questions are even more pressing. I still love robots, but will they love us? What do you think? (spooky music plays in the background).
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- The Never Ending Series – this is nothing but a blatant money grab and a disrespect for character arc. In order to sustain this series, an author has to master the art of throwing lots of shi…er…stuff at the fan while NOT advancing the actual story line.
- The I Was Just Kidding Series – you know this one. Sing the refrain with me. This is the series that sets up a deep, rich world, replete with rules we can all understand. And then the author gleefully nukes those rules in subsequent books. Yes. You are thinking of the same person I’m thinking of whose movies are listed if you look this egregious series type up in the dictionary. He’s not the only, or even the worst, offender. Just the poster child for immeasurable fan rage.
- The Top That Series – this series starts out well enough, but alas, it falls victim to its own success and becomes a Never Ending Series. At that point, the author, in an effort to make each story better than the last, puts the characters in increasingly ridiculous situations in order to top the last novel. Eventually, this leads to I Was Just Kidding seriesdom.
- Harry Potter – for recurring characters across a set period of time, who remained true to their arcs and to their personalities throughout. Humor, danger, stakes – this series got 90% of everything right. The gripes with series that I have I blame more on the editors not actually editing than on anything else. Also, the gripes, they are minor in the face of the awesome. Yes, of course the twins are my favorite characters.
- Firefly (Shush! I know it’s a TV show! I know it was canceled years ago. Don’t mock my pain!) – Excellent use of recurring characters in conflict with one another, trapped by differing sets of circumstances. Smart dialog. Choices I could believe people might actually make given the options at hand. Love the slow turn up of pressure that living on the edge of ‘never having enough’ and ‘wanted by more than the law’ brought to the story.
- Linnea Sinclair’s Dock Five Series – For two of the books, there were recurring characters, but then the stories branch out to other members of a family. It gives the series a great range of flavors (in that you see things through a number of different character lenses) all while getting to remain in the richly textured world (and the conflict therein) that’s been built. It’s not quite like getting to start a whole new series each time I pick up a new book, but it’s close.
- Star Trek (novels – don’t much care which flavor) – I love these because it’s a testimony to the strength of established characters. Star Trek novels are rarely written by the same author more than two or three times. There are HUNDREDS of these novels out. Yet if you pick up one of those hundreds and begin reading, you’ll instantly recognize the characters and the world. Granted, there are some mighty strong controls in place to make sure no one does anything really silly.
I think I’ve already talked about the childhood trauma of never being able to find a complete series? We won’t rehash that old wound. Just suffice it to say, thank the internet for my new-found ability to buy ALL THE BOOKS in a series in one go. That, all by itself may be my greatest series love.
Great villains don’t see themselves as villains. This moral blind spot not only enables their bad ass ways but also dangles a nuanced humanity–accessible actions that have us believing in their potential for redemption–that makes them so downright scary.
Great villains have:
- Focus and purpose—they are on a mission, even if we don’t agree with it.
- Leadership and fierce intellect—while there are many lone villains out there, I like those that come as part of a pack. Their ability to motivate their people, care for them even if that care is twisted reveals that nuanced humanity.
- Beauty and Seductiveness—their words, mannerisms, looks, intellect, all would be drop dead sexy if their bad wasn’t so truly bad. They tempt us using our weaknesses as bait.
I’ve got two favorites—one male, one female. Let’s start with Hans Gruber, played to perfection by Alan Rickman, in the film Die Hard.
When he glides off the elevator in a custom-tailored, Savile Row suit, followed by a horde of to-die-for bad boys masquerading as terrorists to execute the ultimate burglary, Hans had me at: “I could talk about men’s fashion and industrialization all day but I’m afraid work must intrude .” The British accent upped him on the hot scale, and had him serving up dialogue in a way that made me swoon.
Witty, sophisticated, brilliant, I’d have gone for him big time if he didn’t have a ruthless penchant for killing innocent people. Although he radiated heartlessness, he wrangled his pack as a true leader, stayed firm to his goals, perverse as they might be, and maintained a veneer of politeness when dealing with the hostages (even though he did ultimately plan on killing them all). Not a hair or etiquette out of place.
What really made Hans accessible was Alan Rickman’s performance. In Rickman’s own words, Hans was not a villain. And that is why he nailed the character—he kept him human.
My favorite female bad ass is the Borg Queen (BQ) from Star Trek, played by Alice Krige in the movie First Contact and Susanna Thompson in the Star Trek Voyager series. BQ slinks into our world with the swagger of a seductress, catching Lt. Commander Data in her claws. Take a peak:
BQ: “Are you familiar with physical forms of pleasure?”
Data: “If you are referring to sexuality, I am fully functional, programmed in multiple techniques.”
BQ: “ How long since you’ve used them?”
Data: “Eight years, seven months, 16 days, four minutes, 22—“
BQ: “Far too long.”
If you haven’t seen the movie, yes, she kisses him and he kisses her back. In addition to temptress, the Borg leader prowls with the protectiveness of a mother tigress shielding her young. Here’s a snippet from Endgame with Seven of Nine, a former Borg drone returned to humanity by Janeway and the Star Trek Voyager crew:
BQ: “Seven of Nine, Tertiary Adjunct of Unimatrix 01. It’s been too long.”
Seven: “What do you want?”
BQ: “Do I need a reason to visit a friend?”
Seven: “We’re not friends.”
BQ: “No. We’re more than that. We’re family.”
She may not be human, but the humanity in that demeanor cannot be denied. With an emotional vein, not present in the drones she leads, she can be hated. The Borg drones are victims, and can only elicit only our pity.
The Borg Queen as mother brings us closer to her and separates us from her entirely. To protect her collective, her family, is to terminate us. What I love most about her villainy is that while Picard and Data defeated her, only Captain Janeway, another mother guarding her family, could destroy her. Like Ellen Ripley and the Alien Queen, it takes a mother to outmaneuver a mother. An interesting twist when dealing with female baddies.
It’s that need for family and loyalty to achieve defined objectives that makes these villains great, and gives us a way to understand them even as we hate them. That nuance haunts us because it reminds us that but for fate, we are not that far away from villainy as we sometimes like to think.
I’d love to hear from you. What characteristics make up a great villain? Do they differ between male and female baddies?